If your goal is to get a glowing skin tone, end clogged pores, and end acne once and for all, then antioxidants are a goldmine.
Supercharging your bodily antioxidant supplies is the joint most effective strategy for acne. Overall, it is one of the most enjoyable ways to clear acne too. Your near infallible rule is that the more flavoursome the fruit or herb, the heavier and more diverse the antioxidant count.
That said, there’s a common perception that plant foods are the only source of antioxidants, which is wrong. A banana, for example, contains only a few antioxidants, like rutin. Meanwhile a slab of beef, not associated with antioxidants in adverts, is drenched in minerals and aids your body in manufacturing its own antioxidants.
The antioxidant content of a food does not totally determine the end result in your bloodstream and skin. To give you an easily consultable list for rapid action, here are 23 foods with strong powers to increase bodily antioxidant levels, and hence strong powers to clear acne.
One – pomegranate
A pomegranate is like a purple antioxidant bombshell; 100 grams of the seeds has an oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) score of 10500. Berries score around 5000 on average.
Pomegranate juice has been found to have three times the antioxidant potency of red wine and green tea. The purple colour is nothing more than an abundance of pigmented anthocyanin antioxidants, including pelargonidins, malvidins, and delphinidins.
Pomegranates also contain an extremely powerful and exclusive antioxidant called punicalagin. Yet another study analysed 10 nutritious fruit juices; pomegranate juice beat grape juice, acai juice, and even blueberry juice for total antioxidant capacity.
My advice: pick a dark coloured pomegranate, as the seeds within will be the same. Grab them while you can!
Two – eggs
A free range egg is the first acne-friendly antioxidant source which is hidden in plain sight, working from two directions.
Firstly, egg yolks are saturated with minerals, and in particular selenium (46% of the RDA per two large eggs). Selenium is a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, which is manufactured in the human liver.
Secondly, eggs are a top source of fat soluble antioxidants with two, lutein and zeaxanthin, even building themselves directly into skin cells to provide a buffer against sunlight. This study concluded that eating a daily average of 1.3 egg yolks for 4.5 weeks increased blood levels of lutein by 28-50% and zeaxanthin by 114%-142%. It would be even better if you ate three eggs, a breakfast sized portion.
Three – dark chocolate
The most famous antioxidant food, but one which is foolish to overlook. The raw antioxidant total of a cocoa bean is among the higher in nature and even with roasting, fermenting and sun drying, the total found in a dark chocolate bar remains huge.
This study measured the antioxidants of five powders, which were pomegranate, acai, cocoa, blueberry, and cranberry. 3 different measurement methods were used: ORAC, total polyphenol content (TP), and total flavanol content (TF).
All powders were rich in antioxidants, but cocoa powder achieved a resounding victory in all three categories. There’s also the high magnesium content, which like selenium is an effective stimulator of glutathione synthesis. Warning: make sure you buy 80% or higher dark chocolate, because the antioxidants and minerals are concentrated in the cocoa powder.
Four – garlic
Garlic is one of strongest smelling herbs found in a cupboard, but you might not realise that the smell can be the saviour of your acne.
It’s down to the sulphurous compounds; garlic has heavy concentrations of three categories of sulphurous compounds called thiosulphanates, dithiins, and sulfoxides. Dietary sulphur is another vital cofactor for making glutathione.
What’s more, garlic has its own antioxidant supply too. The thiosulphanate compound allicin digests into sulfenic acid upon reaching the human stomach, and according to this study, sulfenic acid deactivates free radicals faster than any other antioxidant known to science.
Alert – buy fresh garlic at all costs. Powders and chopped forms in the grocery store have lost most of their allicin.
Five – oregano
If you want a cheap and convenient source of antioxidants then oregano cannot be beaten. Firstly, a 100 gram bag of organic oregano, basically a 3 month supply, costs just $7. Secondly, you can sprinkle oregano over anything savoury; meat, fish, soup, and other acne friendly foods which are just begging for enhancement.
Dried oregano has the fifth highest ORAC score of any food, scoring 200,129. The main antioxidant compound is rosmarinic acid, which is also found in rosemary. By weight, oregano contains 30 times more antioxidants than potatoes, 12 more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.
One study confirmed that a tablespoon of oregano contains the same antioxidant capacity as an apple. Oregano is almost one of the fabled zero calorie foods as well. Its only substance is the fiber, which provides another acne-clearing benefit, the nourishing of healthy bacterial strains in your gut. Unlimited antioxidants!
Six – Brazil nuts
The Brazil seed is actually what we’re talking about. The “nut” is the hard shell which workers have to venture into the jungle to find (Brazil nuts cannot be grown commercially) and crack into to obtain the food.
Anyway, the product commonly known as the Brazil nut is the richest source of selenium in a grocery store. Simply eating two normal sized Brazil nuts a day could potentially clear a vast swathe of acne, since 10 grams contains 274% worth of the daily allowance.
Again, selenium is the main mineral involved with glutathione synthesis; 5 out of 8 forms of glutathione are actually seleno-proteins.
This study found that the consumption of only one 5 gram Brazil nut per day for 3 months wiped out all glutathione deficiencies among the 11% of patients who had them. This study found that one daily Brazil nut increased both selenium and glutathione levels in 37 obese women.
The only downside with Brazil nuts is the allergy risk. Weirdly this is the only allergic reaction which is known to be sexually transmittable. If you are allergic, then switch to a combination of eggs, and our next food…
Seven – salmon
However, salmon as an oily fish also stands out by being one of the few food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D levels correlate with an antioxidant called superoxide dismutase. Salmon also possess an ultra-powerful fat soluble antioxidant called astaxanthin. This provides the fish’s orange pigment and like lutein in eggs, is shown to migrate to skin cells and provide direct protection against UV rays.
Interestingly, one study found that two portions of farmed salmon per week led to higher blood concentrations of glutathione in pregnant women. Retinol levels were also increased. Wild Alaskan salmon is optimal, but clearly farmed salmon is acceptable if you carefully choose a higher quality brand.
Eight – coffee
For years now coffee has held the undisputed post as the number one dietary source of antioxidants.
The average person consumes 1-2 grams of antioxidants per day. In this study, where scientists compiled a list of the 100 foods richest in polyphenolic antioxidants, coffee was beaten into 11th place by berries. However, the average person doesn’t attend a berry shop or berry bar in the morning or to keep them up at night; hence coffee contributed far more overall to the human diet and was in fact ranked first.
According to some studies, coffee contributes more antioxidants than all fruits and vegetables combined. Some Norwegian and Finnish studies once found that coffee provides 64% of all antioxidants in those countries. The variety of antioxidants in coffee is also staggering. Chlorogenic acid, hydrocinnamic acids, quinides, lignans, cafestol and kahweol are just a selection of the names.
Nine – berries
As broad families of food species go, berries have maintained a stranglehold over antioxidants for years now and there’s little prospect of that changing. Almost all of their many health benefits are down to their colossal antioxidant counts.
Blueberries contain pterostilbene, an antioxidant which is structurally related to the popular red wine compound resveratrol. Raspberries are rich in rutin and ellagic acids, while strawberries are the in the top 5 fruit sources of vitamin C. Wild blackberries are so dense and flavoursome that they’ll never be completely understood.
The greatest widely sold berry is actually the cranberry. It has an ORAC score of 9090; this study found that cranberry juice increased both total blood antioxidant capacity and through some mechanism, superoxide dismutase, which is a bodily manufactured antioxidant like glutathione.
The positive stories never end with berries; furthermore they lack major acne-causing abilities. Raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries all rank towards the bottom of the sugary fruit list, with less than 5 grams per 100 grams. Blueberries are perfectly acceptable with 10. The only hurdle is to stick to the real thing and not a blueberry muffin.
Ten – lettuce
Lettuce is one of my favourite unlimited antioxidant sources, since it’s one of the true zero calorie vegetables.
You can’t really call lettuce a food – trying living on lettuce for a month and you’ll be as weak as a new-born kitten. Nevertheless, it definitely is an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, two of the most important antioxidant nutrients. 100 grams of green leaf lettuce contains 148% of the RDA for the former and 15% for the latter.
You have to buy lettuce organically as it generally features in the dirty dozen of pesticide contamination, but if you’re a prime target for bank robbers you can eat never-ending amounts.
Interestingly, wounding romaine and iceberg lettuce leaves increases their antioxidants. Phenolic antioxidant concentrations increased by 4 times in the areas surrounding the wound, in this study. Add a small rip to your lettuce the night before your salad the next day.
Eat your lettuce fast, as lettuce stored for long periods in restaurants loses its vitamin C (study). Also remember that iceberg lettuce is noticeably weaker than other varieties, whereas romaine lettuce contains bonus helpings of vitamin A.
Eleven – sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes, meanwhile, are the best heavy carbohydrate source for acne which also delivers a flood of antioxidants. They’re one of the richest sources of carotenoid antioxidants in a marketplace; just look at their orange colour and you already know the truth.
200 grams of sweet potatoes, a decent 40 carb strong energy providing dosage, contains a massive 566% of the RDA for vitamin A. However, it’s all in the form of beta-carotene, so any that your body doesn’t convert into active vitamin A stays behind to act as an antioxidant.
That weight of sweet potatoes also contains 66% of the RDA for vitamin C. While vitamin E is a major fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C is one of the main water-soluble antioxidants. To clear acne you need a good variety of both.
One particularly interesting aspect of sweet potatoes is the sporamins. These are unique proteins in nature which account for over 80% of the total in the sweet potato plant. Their purpose is to encourage rapid healing when the living sweet potato tuber is injured, possibly by underground worms. But according to this study, they also “exhibit antioxidant and radical scavenging activity”. Remember: add a small amount of avocado, for optimal absorption.
Twelve – green tea
Dubbed “the healthiest beverage on the planet”, green tea is definitely one of the best for clearing acne. It contains one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature, called epigallocatechin-3-gallate. There’s a variety of related antioxidants, like epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), in addition to quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol.
To take your green tea to the next level of acne-clearing goodness you can drink matcha. Both green tea and matcha are derived from the Chinese Camellia sinensis plant. Where they differ is that to grow matcha, you cover the plant with shade for twenty to thirty days before the harvest.
This deprivation of resources stimulates an increase in chlorophyll, amino acids, and various healthy compounds to compensate. What’s more, matcha is made from ground down whole leaves while standard green tea is made from soaked leaves. All this acts to increase the concentration of antioxidants in the final product, and the antioxidants clearing your acne.
Note: green tea may have detrimental effects in men due to its anti-androgen properties. For women there are no restrictions.
Thirteen – red grapes
Only one word is needed to explain red grapes – resveratrol. This phytoalexin antioxidant has muscled its way onto the supplement market by protecting hearts, extending lifespan, and eradicating free radicals.
Resveratrol functions as a potent antioxidant itself (read this article). However, it also stimulates the body to manufacture the antioxidant superoxide dismutase. Resveratrol causes an increase in the enzyme called oxygenase 1, a mediator which triggers SOD formation. This study found that resveratrol upregulated the production of SOD at the genetic level.
Resveratrol even suppressed a pro-oxidant gene called NADPH. Contrary to media hype, free radicals have some useful functions in the body. Too many can be sent forth, however, and by controlling NADPH resveratrol may counteract that.
Elsewhere, the ORAC score of red grapes is strong at 1807. This study is excellent; 21 humans enjoyed a serving of grape juice and afterwards their “plasma total radical-trapping antioxidant potential showed an increase”.
Grapes also have the ability to increase glutathione levels by 71% in the liver, even though they contain barely any of the main co-factors cysteine, sulphur, magnesium, selenium, zinc, glycine and glutamine (study). The earlier study on SOD also concluded that resveratrol could increase glutathione.
Fourteen – almonds
Almonds are not a perfect food for acne by any means, but they scrape onto this list thanks to their undeniably monstrous vitamin E content. 50 grams of almonds, or 40 regular sized nuts, contains 65% of your recommended daily intake. Vitamin E is the most important fat soluble antioxidant in the diet and is indispensable if you care even slightly about unclogging your skin pores.
On top of that, almonds contain over 30 types of flavonoid antioxidants, including catechin, epicatechin, quercetin and kaempferol. Hence a study on 60 male smokers found that eating 84 almonds daily for 4 weeks slashed markers of oxidative stress by 23-24%. Imagine the results if you combine almonds with other foods on the list.
The downside is their moderately unfavourable fat profile, since they’re high in polyunsaturated fats. However as discussed in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne this threat can be contained with some secret but brainless strategies. Almonds are worth including, especially considering this brilliant study which found that the vitamin E and other antioxidants actually had a synergistic effect. They multiplied each other’s antioxidant powers.
Also, I don’t even know why they’re popular, but many health food shops sell tasteless blanched almonds with the skin removed. Ignore them, because that’s where most of the antioxidants are concentrated.
Fifteen – ginger
When it comes to acne, ginger is like a wad of 60 dollars on the pavement which people glued to their phones keep walking past. Everybody is obsessed with its anti-inflammatory ability to treat stiff joints, and its cognitive benefits, but the highly obvious fact of its antioxidant properties get little attention from acne-clearing enthusiasts.
Luckily, you can come and take advantage. The powder of the ginger rhizome (root) has an ORAC score of 14,840. The antioxidants are diverse, and unusual too, featuring shogaols, zingerones and gingerols (which genius invented that name?).
In a study referenced here, wistar rats were fed a diet consisting of 0.5% to 5% ginger for 1 month. Your basic ginger powder increased all three of the major indigenous antioxidant enzymes – glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and catalase. The increases were 11-30%, 76-414% and 37-94% respectively.
Ginger is like oregano in that bulk organic packets are very cheap and versatile, with the more added the merrier. However, ginger’s flavour works better for different foods, including yoghurt, tea and coffee. So now you have two choices of bargain antioxidant gold dust.
Sixteen – liver
Liver is a successful antioxidant raising food, not because it contains plenty, as it doesn’t. Instead liver is a highly concentrated bombshell of all the ingredients required to manufacture glutathione.
100 grams of beef liver contains 5% of the RDA for magnesium, 52% for selenium, and 35% for zinc. On the amino acid front, there’s cysteine and 1672mg of glycine, a glutathione ingredient which is hard to find.
Kidneys are also excellent, with beef kidneys containing less zinc, but 240% of the RDA of selenium per 100 grams. In fact, any organ meat is drenched in minerals, but stick to liver if you don’t want to become a complete savage.
Seventeen – basil
Dried basil spice has an ORAC score of 61,063, so on paper it’s stronger than ginger for acne. Types of antioxidants found in basil include vicenin, orientin, eugenol and many anthocyanins.
Yet again, basil is hardly discussed in relation to antioxidants. Herbs and spices in general are underestimated sources of antioxidants; fruits and vegetables get all the publicity. Like ginger, basil increases all three main antioxidant enzymes, through an unidentified mechanism. Feeding mice an extract of basil leaves for 15 days increased glutathione 1.16-1.28 fold, superoxide dismutase 1.1-1.4 fold and catalase 1.56-1.58 fold (study).
You might be familiar with basil as an oregano alternative on pizza, but as acne-friendly foods go, basil is a great antioxidant source to add to meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, soup and egg dishes.
Eighteen – hazelnuts
Hazelnuts are your acne-clearing alternative to almonds in case you’re allergic to them or something else goes wrong. Hazelnuts are the second richest nut in vitamin E with 38% per 50 grams.
Where they improve upon almonds is in their more beneficial ratio of fats, with more monounsaturated fats and less polyunsaturated ones. Elsewhere hazelnuts are one of the most antioxidant rich nuts in general. This study found that hazelnuts enhance overall plasma antioxidants enough to decrease “bad” oxidised LDL cholesterol. This study detected gallic, protocatechuic, p-coumaric, ferulic and sinapic acids in the nut.
Like almonds, this study revealed that eating the bitter skin is a must. The skin contained the highest concentrations of gallic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, and sinapic acid. The main kernel contains the vitamin E but the whole nut is on another level.
Additionally, to get the biggest acne benefits you’ll have to buy raw hazelnuts. In this study on Turkish hazelnut varieties, roasting led to huge losses in total phenolics (~66.3%), ORAC values (~41.6%), condensed tannins (~75.2%) and phenolic acids (~42.7%). Hazelnuts are almonds for the more advanced acne patient.
Nineteen – cardamom
Cardamom is a spice, an antioxidant weapon which originated in tropical parts of India and Nepal but is little used in the West. The spice comes from the black seeds found within the green pods of the plant, and the acne benefits are huge.
Just one five gram teaspoon of cardamom contains 109% of the RDA for manganese, one of the main co-factors for superoxide dismutase (zinc and copper are the others). This study gave 20 hypertensive patients 3 grams of cardamom daily for two weeks. Total antioxidant status was assessed prior to and immediately after the study.
The daily cardamom increased total antioxidant status by an average of 90%. As a bonus benefit, systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure all fell significantly. Another study examined the effect on antioxidant enzymes; cardamom increased glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase all by substantial amounts.
Kale has become a joke of a food among people who hate fad diets and vegans, but it is monstrously healthy, even if you can’t really live off it. It’s an acne-clearing machine as well.
Firstly, 100 grams of kale leaves contains 199% of the RDA for vitamin A and 200% for vitamin C. Vitamin C is the king of water soluble antioxidants. Like with lettuce, the vitamin A is in plant-based carotene form and will flood your body with antioxidants. Kale also gives your skin a glutathione increase due to the 11% magnesium content, which is excellent for a vegetable.
Then there’s the other carotenoids such as lutein. Kale is a highly acne-friendly food and the most antioxidant-friendly cruciferous vegetable, with spinach coming a close second for cranking up the supply. Again a food where an avocado helping will come in use, to enhance vitamin A absorption.
Twenty-one – saffron
Yet another hidden acne spice. Saffron was highly popular in Ancient Greece and was referenced by Hippocrates for its medicinal properties.
This spice is very similar to basil, with a study establishing a power to increase glutathione, catalase and superoxide dismutase in the rat liver, as well as glutathione-s-transferase, the detoxification form of glutathione. This study dissolved saffron in milk, fed it to 20 humans, and achieved a result which “indicates the potential of Saffron as an antioxidant”.
Saffron is taken from the flower of the Asian crocus plant. Interestingly, it has some antioxidants which are found nowhere else in nature. These include picrocrocin, crocin and safranal, which are also responsible for the taste and smell.
Nutritionally, saffron contains the premier antioxidant boosting mineral manganese in concentrations of 71% of the RDA per 5 grams. The only downside is the cost. Saffron production is stuck in a 2000 year old time warp, where elderly women from Indian villages still pluck the saffron strings off the crocus plant by hand.
Hence, adding saffron to your foods is terrific as a rich man’s acne strategy (same applies to cardamom).
Twenty-two – turmeric
Now we come to the orange curry flavourer turmeric, which has got be one of the best antioxidant foods ever.
The story of turmeric is the story of curcumin, a curcuminoid which is commonly sold in supplements combined with the black pepper extract piperine. Curcumin is not a co-factor in glutathione production at all; after all it only occurs in one plant (turmeric root). Yet curcumin may increase glutathione by 16% in the liver (study), 80% in the liver (study) and prevent the decrease of glutathione caused by toxic heavy metals (study).
This general study on turmeric fed a combination of carrot juice and turmeric extract to rats; glutathione, SOD and catalase all increased. Finally, volunteers in this study were ordered to run 14km a day; supplementing them with curcumin abolished the post exercise increase in oxidative stress.
On top of that, turmeric has an ORAC score of 127,068 and several curcuminoids such as monodemethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin. Turmeric is a very hard spice to beat for clearing acne. Remember – eat your turmeric alongside a dish with black pepper, as the piperine increases curcumin absorption by 2000%.
Twenty-three – whey protein
Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese making process. It’s a go to muscle building tool among some bodybuilders (although some hate it) for its heavy and easy to access protein content…
…and that well digested protein is why it is excellent for acne. Where whey shines for antioxidants is its optimal profile of amino acids for the glutathione making process. It contains cysteine, glutamine, and glycine in optimal quantities. Those are the three main amino acids involved with making glutathione.
In fact, whey protein contains a rare protein form found nowhere else in nature, called glutamylcysteine, a combination of cysteine and glutamine which increases glutathione much more effectively than the isolated version of either.
This study on whey protein demonstrated its antioxidant powers; patients with HIV were fed biologically active and non-denatured whey protein for 3 months. By the end their once suppressed glutathione levels (because of the infection) had been restored to normality.
Meanwhile a mouse study compared whey protein to isolated cysteine. After 6 months “the heart tissue and liver tissue glutathione content were enhanced significantly above the corresponding values of the casein diet-fed… mice”.
Whey protein is easily among the top animal foods for increasing antioxidant levels. Remember to buy whey protein concentrate, not isolate. Grass-fed is also smart to avoid contamination from agricultural pesticides, and to keep the nutrition optimal. Also watch out if you have a dairy sensitivity. Get the full story on dairy and acne in the eBook.
You now have the tools to increase your antioxidant levels from a variety of angles. You can get the big cheese nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin E, you can drench your skin with polyphenols, flavanols, safranal, and other plant antioxidants. Finally, you can engineer your body into an antioxidant manufacturing machine.
To clear acne most effectively you have to focus on all three strategies. You don’t have to eat every food on the list, not even close, but get the basic aspects covered through whichever foods suit you.
You’ve got cheap antioxidants, expensive antioxidants, plant antioxidants, animal antioxidants, you’ve got bitter antioxidants, sweet antioxidants, liquid antioxidants, solid antioxidants, addictive antioxidants, boring antioxidants.
You have earthy antioxidants, spicy antioxidants, protein antioxidants, fatty antioxidants; you have main course antioxidants, dessert antioxidants, safe antioxidants, risky antioxidants and more. The choices for an acne patient never end.
What’s more, the list doesn’t end there; the likes of spinach, apples, cinnamon, and black tea didn’t make the cut but are still excellent. Now, read part 1 of this series: the top 18 acne foods for soothing chronic inflammation.
Thanks for reading!